Sunday, May 12, 2019

1st Five Pages May Workshop - Macur Rev 1

Name: Franziska Macur
Genre: Middle Grade; Magical Realism
Title: Magic by Any Other Name

On the Halloween before my old woman died, the girl came to our door.

I could argue that her appearance was a game changer, but it didn’t come with the sound of a whistle, more like a slow lullaby. 

In my best estimate of human aging, I’d say the girl was around twelve or so and almost too old for trick-or-treating. But it turned out that the girl didn’t ask for any treat (and neither did she offer a trick). Instead, she was chaperoning two little toddlers in mice costumes. 

Of all the costumes available, who would pick dress-up clothes resembling mice if you have the whole animal kingdom, real or fantastical, at your fingertips? (I could somehow give them a pass if there would be three mice, and they couldn’t see. But two? Definitely not.) Who wouldn’t go for unicorns? Monkeys? Even dogs? I felt sorry for those little kids. There had to be adults involved who quite obviously didn’t see the humiliation in this. Or maybe they did and decided that they could get away with it.

The girl caught my attention because she, like my old woman, was dressed in a pointy black hat and a long black gown, which she stroked over in a repeated motion as if this could replace a meticulous bout of ironing that my old woman had applied to her costume. The girl didn’t have the firm stance that the dress-up required. A mild wind could blow her over and away like a delicate orchid. 

She wasn’t a convincing witch; I’m not even sure she’d make a credible witch’s assistant. 

And so after my old woman did her show of the cackling and the candy, she insisted on having pictures taken. 

This was new. The desire to eternalize our spooky act had never been part of our tradition. (And thank goodness for that. If there are degrees in humiliation—and there are—any form of preserving the act in question takes things up at least three notches.)

My old woman handed the girl the camera that had sat right next to the door as if it was waiting for its chance to show its powers to me. The girl received it with a curtsy—again, not very witchy—and took a picture of my old woman and me. I tried to smile, but I couldn’t quite shake off the annoyance that I had established with such care. Besides, cats don’t have to smile to be photogenic.

Then, because apparently this was not enough posing, my old woman insisted on taking a picture of the girl and me. In all my time with my old woman, I couldn’t for the life of me remember that she had ever encouraged me to fraternize with another person. She’d never discouraged it either (as long as they were inside the house). She had simply left it up to me whom to get close to and whom to let be. It was a good understanding. But this seemed important. A command more than an invitation.

My old woman held the girl’s hands in her own for a few seconds and the girl stood taller, stronger. And she agreed to the portrait.

She crouched down and whispered to her pretend mice. “One candy each,” she said and patted their cheeks. “Just for while you wait.”

The mice-kids dove into their buckets.

I eyed the girl with caution.

She eyed me with vigilance.

She spotted the picture of the old man, long gone, next to the door frame. A black bow still adorned the frame.

The girl stopped as if the doorstep was wrapped in electric wire.

Since my old woman didn’t relent on our photo shoot, I took a deep breath and jumped onto the girl’s shoulder, trying to land as softly as possible. (Well, not trying so much as simply doing it. I am, after all, a cat, and I’m very good at the things cats do. Like jumping. And landing with grace and dignity.)

It is interesting what you can tell from a person’s shoulder. Most people duck, or shiver, or hunch if an animal, no matter how cute and silky, jumps on them. It’s very embarrassing if they jiggle and jitter and make you miss your target. But not the girl. Her shoulders kept in perfect balance as if her body was already calibrated to carry a cat. And all that without a firm stance.

If you meet somebody who has waited for you, you often become friends. And that’s how our friendship began. Hesitantly, for sure. Meant to be? Definitely. 

My old woman nodded. “Magic,” she said. Then she took the picture, and the girl and her hideous, candy-chewing mice went their way. I sat on the doorstep, watching them walk away. And for the first time in a very long time, I wondered what it would feel like to follow her, to stroll around the neighborhood. To visit other Halloween shows.

I never realized how big the outside stretched beyond our little place, but today the street seemed infinite.

A couple of days later, the picture of my old woman and me, as well as the picture of the girl and me, had been framed and put on the empty shelf above the electric fireplace. The girl often walked by the house, waving to me or having a little chat through the window with my old woman.

If it was warm enough for the windows to be open, and if I sat close enough, she’d say hello to me. Then she waited until I scooted just a bit closer before she petted first my head, then my neck, then my back. I had assumed that only my old woman had the touch, the kind that allows you to take up more room in the world. But the girl had some of it, too. Younger, more hesitant. But the seed was there.

The windowsill became my favorite spot during after-school hours.


Eight years before my old woman died, she took me from the shelter: me, a sickly little black fur ball, the only one left from my litter. 

My old woman had an eye for potential.

And I delivered, to take the suspense out of that right away. 

On that day of homecoming, the old woman became my old woman. And I became her cat. That’s what it means to take an oath to stay together and love each other. And it was a good oath.

“My cat,” she called me. This is not a valid name, as I learned much later. Humans name their pets Bobby, and Filly, and Sunshine Golden Child. But I was “my cat” to her and she was “my old woman” to me. She healed me, and raised me, and loved me. 

And I did the same for her. 

Tit for tat? Maybe. But more likely the balancing act of love. There’s an urge to spread love around when you are fed love like a constant stream of treats. While there were many others in my old woman’s life to whom she offered love, she was the only person I could spread it back to. 

So for eight years my old woman and I lived a good life. Our days were filled with laughter, and food, and musings about the world. Hers were out loud, mine not so much. And our nights were filled with gentle snores and noiseless watch sessions by the window.


  1. Hi Franziska, I'm going to jump right in with the opening. To be honest, I liked it better when it began with the relationship with the cat and the woman. The trick-or-treating at the beginning made it harder for me to get into the story. Do we need to know so much about the little girl right up front, or could we get that later in the story? If so, I would focus on the primary relationship. The comments in parenthesis could probably be included in the cat's observations without that format, which pulls the reader out of the narrative flow somewhat. You might want to play around with those sentences to see how they flow.
    I could definitely feel the foreshadowing that the girl would be important in the story. I would just try to tweak how you work her into it. I like the image of the cat sitting in the window, and the girl waving. Thanks for sharing your work!

  2. I agree with all of Melissa's suggestions. I just wasn't pulled into the trick-or-treat scene. I think the reader needs to know from the beginning that the narrator is a cat. You have great descriptions of the cat's judgement of the costumes and it's funny. However, I would suggest leaving out the cat's initial criticism of the girl and jump right into the connection he/she feels.

  3. Hi Franziska,

    I think your cat narrator has a strong voice. You definitely get the attitude of a cat- the arrogance (that he has to work on and convey- very cute and funny), judging the girl and the woman, etc.

    I actually liked the intro to the little girl better than the last draft that felt like too much backstory up front introducing the old woman first. However, I was waiting for something important to happen while she was trick or treating...or at least something odd that the cat is trying to figure out and still wondering about as he watches the girl through the window. I know the cat hinted that a relationship between then develops slowly (like a slow lullaby) so this might be difficult to do but I think something with more substance is necessary. I feel like the girl's reaction to the cat jumping on her shoulder (or lack of reaction) is important... I think? I'd like to know more about the girl's quirks and how they may relate to the plot.

    I would also try to get the cat's voice and personality across with less explanation to the reader. You don't have to spell everything out- readers are smarter than that, even the MG audience. Kids are smarter than people give them credit for. I would delete the stuff in parenthesis about how cats are graceful and just say I landed on her shoulder with grace and dignity, like us cats do.

    Also, maybe add some dialogue, even if it's one-sided, like the girl saying to the old woman that she's bringing the mice kids around and not trick or treating herself.

  4. I absolutely love your voice. It has the literary quality in the details that is often a favorite of mine to read, and the animal narrator that appeals to readers in the MG category. I also think you're closer to finding your starting point in this version than in last week's. I still think it needs a bit of tweaking to find the true start to your story. I think we as readers need to be dropped right into the moment that the cat's life changes, which is when the old woman dies. We can be with the cat as he watches her body taken from the house, maybe as he finds her dead. I know this sounds dark but I think you are a strong enough writer to use your voice to make it light yet still powerful, and we'll be more immediately drawn into the cat and its story.

    I don't think this Halloween scene should be wasted. It's really good! Does he go to live with the girl after the woman dies? I think it makes more sense to have this flashback when he encounters the girl now, in real time. It is more effective than having it be a flashback before we are really grounded in the story.

    I hope this makes sense. Happy writing!


    1. Thank you. I'm playing around with different starting points.

  5. Hi Franziska,

    This is a very fun version. I think you could start this way or the other, and the choice is really in what your focus is. If this is a story about the girl and the cat, the girl needs to be early, and if it’s about the cat and the woman, you don’t need the girl at all. But I like this girl and I want to know more. I want to be a hundred percent in the scene, not in a looking-back way. I’d love to know her of the mice-kids can call her something. I love that she’s not a convincing witch but has a strong shoulder. Wonderful details.

    I suggest you start with the cat and the woman on the day of Halloween. She is getting ready. And then the girl comes. That night, the lady drops dead. And then we continue with the girl while the cat mourns his old woman.

    The way you’ve structured it now is a bit confusing and it’s hard to know who to get attached to; however, one thing is sure...we want to get attached. This cat has a funny, brilliant voice and I would like to know his/her opinions about all things. This story has a lot of potential and I think kids will love reading it!


    1. Thank you. I'm trying out different times where the story could start.